A&E

Around the world, one plate at a time

Castro Street's Cijjo has something for everyone

If you Google the word "Cijjo" you get the restaurant in Mountain View, and only the restaurant in Mountain View. That is by design. The three-month-old Cijjo Cosmopolitan Tapas Lounge is one of a kind.

The owners are Silicon Valley finance and technology buddies who have traveled and eaten all over the world, and wanted a place to eat that way at home. One of them came upon a little store in Spain called Cijjo and liked the sound of it, which is: "SAI-jo."

Many restaurants take liberties with the tapas concept, calling anything on a small plate a tapa. Cijjo pays respect to the Spanish origin of tapas, which range from bar snacks to omelets that go particularly well with cocktails and wine.

For co-owner and general manager Trisha Pham, the idea is: "Everyone can get what they want and be happy."

Another common tapas misconception is that they are somehow related to fusion. At Cijjo, each dish reflects its country of origin, with accommodation for California ingredients.

Food, wine and even beers on draft (such as wood-aged Gentlemen's Club ale) change often. Small producers populate the international wine list. Advice and tastes are freely given, and you get to choose from a refreshingly large selection of wines by the glass.

Customer-friendly, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan items are also starred. Ninety-percent of the menu gets a star.

The international charcuterie plate ($15) glistens with ribbons of French-style duck prosciutto, Italian bresaola (air-dried beef) and fabulous jamon Iberico de bellotta, the cured leg of Spanish acorn-fed pig on display at the bar. All are delicious in their own way, and this platter is enough for four people to share. On the down side, all this lovely meat came with a couple of cornichons and wimpy bread. Better bread and a little mustard might be nice.

Westphalia pork belly ($15) was also very tasty. Rubbed in spice and braised, the meat was rich but not too fatty. Cantaloupe puree adds color but will be better when cantaloupe is in season.

Three medium-size scallops ($14), possibly bigger scallops cut in half, were dull, despite their accompaniments of red onion, green chili and lime.

Piedmont truffle fries ($6) were thin, crispy and not drowning in white truffle butter. Served in a wax-paper lined cone, they were flecked with Parmesan and chives.

The Lyonnaise salad ($9) married a creamy warm poached egg with salty, chewy diced lardons, but the curly leaves of frisee, on which they made their bed, lacked oomph. Maybe the dressing was a little dull.

Our server, snappy in a tie and vest, was uncommonly helpful, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. When asked, he made good suggestions about both wine and food.

He recommended the Bahamian bread pudding ($8), a swirl of coconut milk, currants and caramel rum sauce, easily shared by two.

Like the servers, the restaurant is dressed up. There are purple curtains, dramatic lights and each white table gets a vase of bright flowers.

Things are evolving for the 80-seat restaurant, which opened Dec. 26. Some dishes feel like too much ado. The owners found that the all-small-plates menu didn't appeal to everyone, so added some larger dishes such as squid ink pasta, chorizo and mussels, fish and chips and tarte flambé. They started with dinner only, then added lunch and Sunday brunch, and soon will have a Saturday brunch.

Cijjo Cosmopolitan Tapas Lounge:

Reservations: yes

Website: www.cijjomv.com

Credit cards: yes

Parking: street and city lots

Alcohol: full bar

Children: no

Outdoor dining: yes

Party and banquet facilities: yes

Noise level: comfortable

Bathroom cleanliness: excellent

246 Castro St., Mountain View. (650) 282-5401

Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. Happy Hour 4-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. Dinner 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Brunch 10:30-3 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.

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